Birth and Rearing
Muhammad was born in Makkah on Rabi` Awwal 12, 570 CE. His father died before his birth. The infant Muhammad was handed to a Bedouin wet nurse to be brought up by her in the healthy atmosphere of the desert. At the age of five, Muhammad returned to the care of his mother, Aminah bint Wahb, but she died a year later. Muhammad then went to his paternal grandfather, `Abdul Muttalib. He died when Muhammad was eight, and the boy was then brought up by his uncle Abu Talib. At the age of twelve, he accompanied his uncle in a merchant’s caravan to Syria.
As a Young Man
Muhammad was content to work as a shepherd, but his uncle Abu Talib desired something better for him and obtained him employment with a rich widow, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid ibn Asad. Thus Muhammad found himself at the age of 25 in charge of a caravan conveying merchandise to Syria. On his return, Khadijah was so pleased with his successful management of her business and was so attracted by his noble character that she sent her sister to offer the young man Khadijah’s hand. Muhammad had felt drawn to Khadijah, and so matters were soon arranged. Their 26 years of married life were singularly happy. Muhammad continued to work as a merchant. His fairness further enhanced his reputation as “Al-Amin” (The Trustworthy). He continued to take an ever-increasing interest in public affairs and to exert himself in the service of the poor, the helpless, and the weak.
In the Cave
Whenever the iniquities of his people oppressed him, Muhammad retired to the solitude of a cave in Mount Hira’ outside Makkah. There his soul tried to peer into the mysteries of creation, of life and death, of good and evil, to find order out of chaos. Solitude became a passion with him, and every year he would retire to the cave for the whole month of Ramadan to mediate.
It was on one of these occasions, when he was 40 years of age, that Muhammad received the call. One night, while lying absorbed in his thoughts in the solitude of the cave, Muhammad was commanded by a mighty voice to go forth and preach. Muhammad rose trembling and hastened home to seek rest and solace in Khadijah’s tender care, and she calmed and comforted him. She later consulted her kinsman, Waraqah ibn Nawfal. He declared that the heavenly message that had come to Moses had now come to Muhammad, and that he was chosen as a prophet of Allah.
Khadijah was the first to accept the truth of Islam. Muhammad then communicated his experience to his cousin `Ali, his adopted son Zayd, and his intimate friend Abu Bakr. The Prophet began by preaching his mission secretly first among his intimate friends, then among the members of his own tribe, and thereafter publicly in the city and suburbs. The Quraysh tribe were the guardians of the Ka`bah, which was a source of great prestige and profit to their city, Makkah. They were, therefore, seriously alarmed and became actively hostile towards Muhammad.
Hijrah to Abyssinia
The fury of the people of Makkah knew no bounds. Muhammad was subjected to insults, to personal violence, and to the bitterest persecution, and his converts were most relentlessly oppressed, persecuted, and tortured. Therefore, in the fifth year of his mission, Muhammad advised them to leave the country and seek refuge from the persecution of the idolaters among the Christian people of Abyssinia. Muhammad and a few stalwart followers remained in Makkah and suffered untold misery and oppression, but still their number continued to increase.
The Quraysh outlawed Muhammad and asked his clan to forgo their right to avenge his blood. The proud clansmen refused to give up the right at the bidding of the people of Makkah, who thereupon boycotted them. After three years, the ban was lifted. A year later, Muhammad lost his uncle Abu Talib and his wife Khadijah. The death of Abu Talib removed the last check on the Makkans’ violence. Persecution grew ever fiercer, and Muhammad sought refuge in the neighboring city of Ta’if, where he was met with great hostility and barely escaped with his life.
Hijrah to Madinah
Muhammad took council with his Makkan followers, and it was decided that they should immigrate to Madinah. They left gradually and unobtrusively, Muhammad remaining to the last. Their departure was soon discovered by the Quraysh, who decided to slay Muhammad before he, too, escaped. They, therefore, cast lots and chose forty men, one from each clan, who took a solemn vow to kill Muhammad. They were to strike simultaneously so that the murder could not be avenged on any one clan. But on the night they were to kill him, Muhammad left Makkah with Abu Bakr.
Muhammad was now free to preach, and his followers increased rapidly. The Muslims could now worship freely and live according to the laws of Allah. But the people of Makkah were not going to allow Muhammad’s movement to take root in Madinah. They organized three great expeditions against the city, but all were beaten back.
Treaty of Hudaybiyah
Eventually the Makkans and Muslims concluded the Treaty of Hudaybiyah to maintain peace and to observe neutrality in their conflicts with third parties. According to the treaty, the Muslims were to return to Madinah that year without performing the pilgrimage, but they could come to do that the following year when the Quraysh would vacate the city for them for three days.
Back in Makkah
It was not until AH 8 that the Muslims were able to put an end to this war by gaining a bloodless victory over Makkah when the Makkans violated the terms of their treaty. The people of Makkah, who had relentlessly oppressed Muhammad and his followers for 21 years, expected dire vengeance, but in the hour of their defeat, they were treated with the greatest magnanimity. “Go, you are free!” were the words with which Muhammad gave them general amnesty. The Prophet removed all the idols in and around the Ka`bah, saying, [The Truth has come and falsehood vanished] (Al-Israa’: 81) and the Muslim call to prayer was heard in this ancient sanctuary.
In AH 10, Muhammad went to Makkah as a pilgrim, and he felt it was for the last time because the revelation he received there included the verse [This day have I perfected your religion for you…] (Al-Ma’idah: 3). On his return to Madinah, he fell ill of a mortal fever. It lasted for 15 days, but he continued to lead the prayers until 3 days before his death, when he deputed Abu Bakr. At early dawn on the last day of his earthly life, Muhammad came out from his room beside the mosque and joined the public prayers, but later in the day he died. The end came peacefully; murmuring of pardon and the company of the righteous in Paradise, the Prophet of Islam breathed his last, at the age of 63, on Rabi` Awwal 12, AH 11.
After his death, his followers faithfully carried the message of Islam, and within 90 years, the light of Islam reached Spain, North Africa, the Caucasus, China, and India.